Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Playing Music

Generally, human beings seem to have a built-in fascination with the sound of music. Since the earliest caveman figured out how to whistle, there's something about musical notes in any form that appeals to our soul. In our modern age, we're a million miles away from cavemen whistling and banging sticks together. Music exists in many forms in our society, from the songs on our ipods, to the radio, television shows and commercials, soundtracks in movies, ringtones, video games, and of course, live performances. In my own life, there's music playing in some form from the moment I wake until my head hits the pillow at the end of the day. And though the reason why we instrinsically find pleasure and comfort in music may always remain a mystery, what is very clear is that being surrounded by music affects just about everyone, whether they're just a listener or play music themselves. My sister once said to me, 'I don't like music.' and I just didn't know how to reply to that.

From a very young age, I gravitated towards music. While my parents are casual music appreciaters, they always had music on in the car or the kitchen. Luckily, they had a fondness for rock and roll oldies, so my exposure to that music helped create a foundation for my love of music today. For most of my life, I've been a proud listener of music, mostly staying on the side of the audience and appreciating the craft without a deep understand of the technical aspects of musical theory. My credentials come from a million hours of listening to songs, albums, discographies, radio, etc., and observing dozens of live shows. I've been quite comfortable with my relationship as an audience and the urge to actually create and perform music hadn't hit me...until about a year ago.

Playing music can be really fun if it comes naturally to you, or brutally frustrating if you just don't have the talent for whichever instrument you're attempting to play. Some people are content with knowing how to play an instrument or two, and find great pleasure in simply playing for themselves or loved ones. Others take it further and form a band, find like-minded music players and jamming out together, while still keeping their day jobs. Then there's the rock-star types, who have turned a musical hobby into a career, with contracts and tours and albums and millions of dollars. And with the somewhat newfound ability to use social networking to get noticed, more and more bands are popping up and being heard.

When I was 12, in elementary school, I attempted to learn how to play an acoustic guitar for a music class I was in. I remember immediately feeling like the guitar didn't quite fit, it didn't feel natural. I admit that music talent can be learned and practiced and perfected, but I also believe that masters like Jimi Hendrix were born with natural genius ability. I managed to learn how to play Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me' on the guitar, which was a lot of fun since that is one of my all-time favourite songs. Knowing just that one tune, I begged my parents for a guitar, and I got one. I think it came from a Sears catologue. I played 'Stand By Me' about a thousand times, then put the guitar down and didn't touch it again. I ended up selling the guitar some time after that.

Throughout high school, I never attempted to learn an instrument again. Instead, I drifted over to the writing side of musical creation and wrote lyrics. These songs were written to mimic the kind of 'high school' hard-rock that I was into at the time, so a lot of these lyrics were quite angsty and depressing (quite amusing to go back and read these as an 'adult'). Though I always had an idea of what the tune to these songs would be, I would have no idea how to translate these tunes to a guitar or piano. So many of them remain as poems written in lyrical form. To this day I still find song lyrics popping into my head, but since my tastes had shifted over to the blues rock side, the lyrics are much less full of rage and more full of soul.

About 4 years ago, I had just received a student loan and felt like treating myself to an instrument, with the hopes of once again learning how to play and at least gaining a beginner's knowledge of musical theory. I understood that the guitar was not my instrument, so I decided to invest in an electric keyboard. The instruments in the piano family have always made much more sense to me than the guitar family. I can't necessarily explain this preference, I just seem to be more comfortable and more talented when standing in front of keys. When I bought my keyboard, I was a cocky bastard and told everyone I would learn how to play it by listening to The Doors albums and mimicking keyboardist Ray Manzarek. It didn't quite work out that way.

For a few years, my keyboard mostly acted as a sound effects machine and just sat there collecting dust most of the time. At one point, I did write a lullaby-style melody called 'Head Up Buttercup', but it didn't take a lot of music theory to bust that one out. The real influence that had me taking practicing music seriously came from my close friends. Guy Dudeman bought a bass guitar and began practicing, learning a lot of music theory a long the way and passing off tidbits of information to me. Corlin Rosewater also played the keyboard, but he has a very different musical approach than I do. He's one of those natural players that can step up to the keyboard and it just makes sense to him, without much understanding of musical theory or scales. He plays beautifully for someone who's self-taught and really helped nurture my love of playing the keyboard. Since then, Corlin has taken to the harmonica with the same passion and talent that he has with the keyboard. Then there's Merv Quantas, easily the most musically inclined out of my group of friends. His instrument of choice is the guitar, but he can also play bass, piano, harmonica, and probably a bunch of other instruments. Together, we form a blues-rock jam band called Kevin and the Clits.

With my friends off practicing and perfecting their instruments of choice, I decided to take piano playing much more seriously, hoping to keep up with their level of music ability. The major turning point was Merv Quantas moving into a house that came with a large rec-room, perfect for a jam space. Long before this, Dudeman and I had come up with 'Kevin and the Clits' as an imaginary blues band that we were in. Any funny phrase or lyric that we came up with, we'd say, that's a 'Kevin and a Clits' song right there. When the four of us began officially playing together, rather than alone in our bedrooms, the name 'Kevin and Clits' was just the natural choice. I can't say for sure where this band name comes from. I do have a friend named Kevin, but he's not the Kevin in the title. And sure, when I tell others, there's the shock value of having the word 'Clits' in the title. I think people are much too sensitive. First, we'll never be famous enough for our band name to matter. Secondly, why is 'clit' such a dirty word? Sure, it's the name of a major sexual body part, but it's barely an offensive term. Plus, the clitoris provides pleasure for people everywhere, which is a great description for our attitude towards music: we just want to have fun with it.

Skip ahead to now. We've lost our jam space, but we still find time and space to jam out every once in a while, and as we all get better at playing on our own, we get even better playing together. As for offical positions, Merv and Guy switch lead and rhythm guitar, Guy plays bass as well, Corlin and I take turns playing keyboard and percussion, and Corlin also plays harmonica. When it comes to percussion, I can keep a beat, as long as it's not too complicated. Give me something to bang on and I can back the band up. In the past couple of months, I've really picked up on some major blues scales, so my ability is growing every time I click my keyboard on, I'm practicing now more than ever. As for genre, we mostly seem to play stomp-blues style rock and roll, with some folk and country influences. We don't have an official album, but we do have a lot of recordings and an ever-growing catalogue of go-to songs, with titles like 'Charlie's Universe', 'Blind Man Smokin', and 'Jam Factory'.

Though there's always the fantasy of being a full-time rock band, I think for now we're satasfied just playing together on a Saturday night. Since we're all music fanatics and have been friends for several years, creating music between us doesn't require a lot of conversation. It usually starts with someone playing a tune and we all pick up on it, and it either works or it doesn't. For me, the best part of the whole process is feeling like I'm a part of the magic. It's one thing to sit back and enjoy career musicians working their magic, but to actually be there creating the type of music I love is an amazing experience. Especially when we're all playing the same tune at the same time and it's working. We don't have an official singer, though Merv and I do sing sometimes, and we don't have a drummer, though we do incorporate bongos, tambourines, spoons, and anything else that makes a beat. One day we might have a singer and drummer, and we might even record an actual album, but for now, we're satisfied just playing together and having a good time.

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